David’s sons

Chapter 3

v1 So Saul’s family opposed David. Their armies continued to fight for a long time. David’s side became more powerful. But the people who supported Saul’s family became weaker and weaker.

Joab and Abner stopped the battle in 2:26-27 but the war continued. The *tribe of *Judah was smaller than the rest of *Israel. But God had *anointed David as the next king of *Israel. So, God gave David and his army success.

David’s sons

v2-5 David had 6 sons while he was in Hebron.

His oldest son was Amnon. Ahinoam was his mother. She came from the town of Jezreel.

His second son was Kileab. Abigail was his mother. She was the widow of Nabal who came from Carmel.

His third son was Absalom. His mother was Maacah. She was the daughter of Talmai. He was the king of the town of Geshur.

His fourth son was Adonijah. His mother was Haggith.

His fifth son was Shephatiah. His mother was Abital.

His sixth son was Ithream. His mother was Eglah, David’s wife.

These sons were all born to David in Hebron.

(Verses 3-5 See also 1 Chronicles 3:1-4.)

David went to Hebron with two wives (2:2). While he was there, he married 4 more wives. Later, when he moved to Jerusalem, he had more wives and children (5:13-16). At that time, some men had more than one wife. This showed that they were important men. Kings often had many wives. This was the custom in many nations round *Israel. Genesis 2 shows that God wants a man to have only one wife. But the *Israelites probably copied the other nations.

The most important son in an *Israelite family was the oldest son. The oldest son of the king usually became the next king. Verses 2-5 name the first son of each of David’s 6 wives. 1 Chronicles 3:1-3 repeats these verses. But it says that the name of David’s second son was Daniel. David’s wives may have had other sons and daughters during this time. For example, 2 Samuel 13:1 says that Tamar was the sister of Absalom. But we do not know when she was born. The Bible does not mention Kileab (or Daniel), Shephatiah or Ithream again. They may have died when they were young. In 2 Samuel 13:23-29, Absalom killed Amnon. In 2 Samuel 18:1-17, Joab and his men killed Absalom. In 1 Kings 1:1 to 2:25, Adonijah tried to become king when King David was an old man. Later King Solomon killed Adonijah.

Abner joins David’s men

v6 The war continued between Saul’s army and David’s army. During this time, Abner became a more powerful leader in Saul’s army. v7 Saul used to have a *concubine whose name was Rizpah. She was the daughter of Aiah. One day Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, ‘Why did you have sex with my father’s *concubine?’

v8 Abner was very angry. He said, ‘You really think that I am worth nothing. I am not on Judah’s side. I have been loyal to Saul and to his family and his friends. I have not handed you over to David. But now you accuse me of a wrong act with this woman. v9 Now I will go and join David’s men. I will help David to do what God has promised him. I deserve a punishment from God if I do not do this. v10 I will make David the king over *Israel and *Judah. He will rule the whole country. He will rule from Dan to Beersheba.’

v11 Ish-Bosheth did not dare to speak. He was afraid of Abner.

v12 Then Abner sent some of his men to David with a message. Abner said, ‘You know who deserves this country. Make an agreement with me. Then I will help you to unite the nation of *Israel.’

v13 David said, ‘Good. I will make an agreement with you. But you must bring Saul’s daughter Michal with you when you come to meet me. If you do not do this, I will not meet with you.’ v14 Then David sent some of his men to Ish-Bosheth with a message. David said to him, ‘Give me my wife Michal. I killed 100 *Philistines so that I could marry her.’

v15 So Ish-Bosheth took Michal away from her husband. His name was Paltiel. He was the son of Laish. v16 But Paltiel followed Michal to the town of Bahurim. He cried all the way. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go home.’ So, Paltiel returned to his home.

Saul had a *concubine called Rizpah. (A *concubine was like a wife, but the man did not marry her. She did not have as many rights as a wife had.) This argument about Rizpah would end Ish-Bosheth’s rule.

Ish-Bosheth was the king of the northern part of *Israel. Abner led his army. But Abner had more power than Ish-Bosheth. When Saul died, his *concubine Rizpah probably lived with Ish-Bosheth’s family. In verse 7, Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of a wrong act of sex with Rizpah. This act suggested that Abner wanted to take Saul’s place as king. Ish-Bosheth was probably worried that Abner had become so powerful. The Bible does not say whether Ish-Bosheth’s words were true. Abner had been loyal to Saul and had served him for many years. In the *Hebrew language, verse 8 says ‘Am I a dog’s head on *Judah’s side?’ A dog’s head had no value. And *Judah was *Israel’s enemy. Abner was very angry when Ish-Bosheth accused him. Abner thought that Ish-Bosheth had insulted him.

Abner knew that David would be king of *Israel as well as king of *Judah. Abner saw that God was giving David success. Abner did not want David to defeat him. So, he decided to join David’s men. In verse 10, Abner said, ‘I will make David the king.’ Abner believed that he had enough power to do this. He could persuade *Israel’s people to make David king. Abner probably hoped that David would reward him with more power. The Bible often uses the phrase ‘from Dan to Beersheba’. It is a way to describe the whole country of the *Israelites. Dan was a town at the northern end of *Israel. Beersheba was a town at the southern end of *Israel, in the area of *Judah.

In verse 11, Ish-Bosheth knew that he was weak. Without Abner, Ish-Bosheth could not be successful. Abner controlled him. Ish-Bosheth did not have enough power to oppose Abner.

Abner wanted to make an agreement with David. So, Abner sent some of his men to speak to David first. Abner had fought against David’s men in the past. So, Abner wanted to be sure that it was safe. David believed that Abner could help him to unite the nation. David was willing to make an agreement with Abner. But an ‘agreement’ means a ‘serious loyal promise’. Abner was Saul’s cousin (1 Samuel 14:50). Saul had tried to kill David several times (1 Samuel chapters 19, 23-24, 26). David wanted to be sure that he could trust Abner. Also, David wanted to know how much power Abner really had in *Israel.

You can read about David’s wife Michal in 1 Samuel chapter 18 and 25:44. David had earned the right to marry Michal. But Saul took her away her from him. This was not right. Saul had made David feel ashamed. So, David wanted his wife back. Also, there were political reasons why David wanted her back. Michal was King Saul’s daughter. If she returned to David, this would unite the families of Saul and David. Therefore, the people who had been loyal to Saul could now be loyal to David. They would not think that they had left Saul. The Bible does not say whether Michal still loved David (1 Samuel 18:28). Paltiel and Michal had no choice. They had to obey the king.

v17 Then Abner went to the leaders of *Israel. He said to them, ‘For a long time, you have wanted David to be your king. v18 Now you have the chance. The *Lord made a promise to David. The *Lord said, “David is my servant. I have chosen David to save my people, *Israel. I will rescue *Israel from the *Philistines and from all their enemies.” ’

v19 Abner also said this to the people from the *tribe of Benjamin. Then Abner went to Hebron. He told David what the people from Benjamin and from *Israel wanted to do. v20 Abner took 20 men with him when he went to Hebron. David prepared a big meal for them. v21 Abner said to David, ‘You are my master and king. I will go out and bring all the *Israelites to you. They will make an agreement with you. Then you will rule over all of *Israel. This is what you have desired.’ So, David sent Abner away in safety.

Verse 17 is the first time that Abner went to the leaders of *Israel. Many of the leaders had stayed with Saul but they wanted to be with David. Now they had the chance to unite all the *Israelites. Abner told these leaders what God had promised to David. Abner must have heard that Samuel had *anointed David. This would show that David would be king. God had promised the same thing to Saul in 1 Samuel 9:16. But Saul had failed. So, God chose David to replace Saul.

Saul belonged to the *tribe of Benjamin. The people from this *tribe had always been loyal to Saul. They were probably also loyal to his son Ish-Bosheth. The land of Benjamin was to the north of *Judah. It was between *Judah and the rest of *Israel. So, Abner had to persuade the people of Benjamin to join King David. Abner made a special visit to them. He spoke to the people, not just to the leaders. Abner’s visit was successful. (Many years later, David’s son Solomon became king after him. When Solomon died, the country of *Israel divided into two countries again. Each country had its own king. *Israel was the name of northern country. *Judah was the name of the southern country. The *tribe of Benjamin was the only *tribe that joined *Judah. See 1 Chronicles 11:1-12; 1 Kings 12:1-24.)

Abner went to David with the good news. Abner took 20 men with him when he first went to meet David. The 20 men were probably soldiers who protected Abner. In those days, people often ate together after they had made an agreement. This showed that they trusted each other. The *Israelites knew then that David and Abner were not still enemies. They had become friends. So Abner knew that he could travel in safety.

Joab murders Abner

v22 Then Joab and David’s soldiers returned from a battle. They had taken many things from their enemy. David had sent Abner away in safety. So, Abner was not with David at Hebron. v23 Joab and his men arrived at Hebron. The people said to him, ‘Abner, the son of Ner, came to David. The king sent Abner away in safety.’

v24 Joab went to King David and Joab said, ‘Your actions were foolish. Abner came to you and now he has gone. You should not have allowed him to leave. v25 You know what Abner, the son of Ner, is like. He came to cheat you. He wanted to discover what you are doing. He wanted to know the places where you go.’

v26 Joab left David. Then Joab sent some men with a message to Abner. They brought him back from the well at Sirah. David did not know about this.

v27 Abner arrived at Hebron. Joab took Abner aside, next to the gate. Joab pretended that he wanted to talk with Abner in private. But Joab pushed his *spear into Abner’s stomach and he died. Abner had killed Joab’s brother Asahel. So, Joab killed Abner to punish him.

v28 Later, David heard what had happened. He said, ‘I, and my *kingdom, are innocent. The *Lord knows this always. We did not kill Abner. v29 Joab and his family are guilty. They deserve punishment. I hope that members of Joab’s family will always suffer in these ways:

·    Some people will have sore parts in their body that will not heal.

·    Some people will have skin diseases.

·    Some people will have to lean on a stick when they walk.

·    Some people will die in a war.

·    Some people will not have enough food to eat.’

v30 (Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because Abner had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)

Verse 22 does not tell us about the battle. Joab (and the soldiers who were with him) may have been fighting against Saul’s men (verse 1). Or Joab and his soldiers may have been fighting against another country. But whoever it was, the battle was successful. When Joab returned to Hebron, he heard about David and Abner. Joab was angry because Abner was his enemy. Abner had killed Joab’s brother. Also, Abner was a very powerful leader. Joab did not want Abner to take his job as the leader of David’s army. Joab did not trust Abner. So, Joab decided to kill him. Verse 30 says that Abishai was part of this plan too.

Abner had not travelled very far. Sirah was less than 4 kilometres (about 2 to 3 miles) from Hebron. Abner had felt safe when he left Hebron. He trusted Joab. It seems that Abner returned to Hebron without his men (verse 26). So, it was easy for Joab to kill Abner. In Numbers 35:16-33 the law describes the punishment for a person who murders somebody. Family honour was important to the relatives of the dead person. But Abner had not murdered Asahel. Abner had killed him in a battle (3:17-23). To kill in war is not the same as murder. In fact, several times Abner had warned Asahel not to chase him. Abner did not want to kill him. Abner was defending his own life when he killed Asahel. But Joab hated Abner. So, Joab murdered Abner.

This was a very bad situation for David. It could have ruined the agreement that he and Abner had just made. Some leaders in *Israel may have suspected that David and Joab had planned this together. So, David acted immediately. In verse 28, he said very clearly that he was innocent. David’s ‘*kingdom’ included his family as well as the people of *Judah. Joab (and Abishai) murdered Abner. Joab was guilty. David should have killed Joab as his punishment. However, in verse 39, David said that Joab and his brother were too powerful. Also, Joab was David’s nephew (2:18). And he was a good leader. Perhaps that was why David did not kill Joab. Instead, David wanted God to punish Joab’s family. This was very serious. People who had sore parts in their body or skin diseases could not go into the *house of the *Lord (Leviticus chapters 14 and 15). Illness, war and lack of food would cause great troubles for Joab’s family.

v31 Then David spoke to Joab and all the people who were with him. David said, ‘Tear your clothes. Wear poor, rough clothes. Cry and walk in front of the body of Abner in the procession at his funeral.’ King David walked behind the body of Abner. v32 So they buried Abner in Hebron. David and all the people cried at Abner’s grave.

v33-34 Then the king sang a very sad song for Abner.

          ‘Abner should not have died as a fool dies.

          They did not tie his hands together.

                      They did not put chains round his feet.

          He died because wicked men murdered him.’

And all the people cried again.

v35 David had not eaten anything on the day of the funeral. Then everyone tried to persuade David to eat some bread. But he had made a serious promise to God. David said, ‘I deserve a punishment from God if I eat bread or anything else before nightfall.’

v36 All the people saw what the king was doing. They agreed with what he was doing. In fact, they agreed with everything that the king did. v37 That day David’s people and all the people of *Israel knew that David was innocent. He was not responsible for Abner’s death.

v38 Then King David said to his men. He said ‘Know this! A really great leader died today in *Israel. v39 I am the *anointed king but I am weak. I cannot control these sons of Zeruiah. I want the *Lord to punish these wicked men for their wicked act.’

David wanted to show that he was innocent. He wanted all the *Israelites to see how sad he was. Verse 31 describes the usual behaviour of sad people in Israel. (Compare this with Genesis 37:34 and 1 Samuel 4:10-12.) Joab, and the people who were with him, had to wear these clothes. They had to lead the procession during the funeral. They had to look humble and give honour to Abner. Then everyone would see that David did not approve of Joab’s act. At a funeral, the dead person’s family usually walked right behind the body. David walked behind Abner’s body. This showed that he was the saddest person in the procession. And this was how he gave honour to Abner.

Israel is a hot country. People there usually bury dead people on the day that they die. Abner’s family came from the *tribe of Benjamin. It would take too long to send Abner’s body to his home town. In fact, his family probably had not even heard about his death.

David wrote many poems. We can read many of his poems in the book of Psalms. David wrote a special poem for Abner. The word ‘fool’ means someone who does not behave the right way. Abner was innocent. But he died like a guilty man. David refers to ‘wicked men’ in his poem. But he does not mention Joab (or Abishai’s) name.

After a funeral, everyone had a meal together. But David would not eat anything during the daytime. Again, this proved that he was very sad. David had respected Abner as a great man. David was genuine about how sad he felt. But he also wanted the people to notice it. Verses 36-37 show the people’s reaction. They believed that David was innocent. The time of crisis passed. All *Israelites supported David. But in verse 39, David knew that he did not have complete power. The ‘sons of Zeruiah’ refer to Joab and Abishai. They had great power. They had opposed David’s plans with Abner. And they dealt with the situation in their own way. David could not control them. So, David trusted God to be their judge.